Friday, September 7, 2018

Part Two: The Doctrine Of Divine Simplicity - Exploring Christ's Deity And Pre-existence In The Old Testament

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Hebrews 1:1-2 "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world."


In our last post in this series, we considered the doctrines of Divine Simplicity, the Trinity and Christology. For those readers wanting to review "part one", simply click on the following link:  

The purpose for presenting those three doctrines was to lay the groundwork for exploring the compatibility between the doctrine of Divine Simplicity (DDS) and Biblical Christology. The Person, natures (Divine and human) and work of Jesus Christ comprise the main points of what is called "Christology" (i.e. "the study of Christ"). The focus of this particular set of posts is whether or not the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity (i.e. God is not composed of parts, is immaterial and is identical in His existence and essence, with no potentiality in being) is a useful doctrine in shedding light on Christology. We want to start with considering Christ's deity as revealed in the Old Testament. Along the way, we will consider the doctrine of Divine simplicity and how the Bible talks about God in His interactions with people by way of various Old Testament appearances of what is arguably non-other than the Divine Person of the Son. 

How The Old Testament Reveals The Second Person of the Godhead and Why Divine Simplicity Is Not Affected 
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What is meant when we say that Jesus Christ is, "very God and very man" or "Jesus is Lord"? 2 Peter 3:18 commands us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. No one can ever exhaust the Person of Jesus Christ. He is all-together lovely. 

The equality of the Son with the Father is not just a New Testament truth (even though it is most fully realized in the New Testament). Certain Old Testament patterns of revelation suggest some sort of plurality of Personhood as identifying the One God of Israel. The term "Godhead" speaks to this specific feature of the God of the Bible in which a plurality of persons (we've used the terms "subsistences" or "hypostases" in previous posts to refer to how the Divine Persons bear the properties of Deity or are instances of the Divine nature as revealed in scripture). Whether we speak of the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, all three share in and each bear the appropriate properties that are assigned to Deity (i.e. omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, simplicity and all the rest). 

This broadly hinted at "plurality of Personhood", as characterizing the One God called "Yahweh" or "Elohim" in the Old Testament, is traced out in quick fashion below. The Old Testament's revelation of God is relevant to our discussion of the deity of the Son hinted at in the Old Testament and expressed in the New Testament.

For starters, there are times where the idea of at least "two divine Persons" are hinted at and even asserted in various Old Testament passages (Psalm 2; Psalm 110; Proverbs 30:4; John 1:1; John 17:3-5; Colossians 1:13-16). The Person of the Son appears throughout the Old Testament record and is even explicitly named as a distinct Personage in passages such as Psalm 2; Psalm 110 and Proverbs 30:4. Under various revelations of Himself to people in what theologians refer to as "Theophanies" or "Christophanies", this second Divine Person is shown as a distinct but nonetheless co-equal identity within the Divine revelation of the God of the Old Testament. Examples of such "Christophanies" include:

1. In many places throughout the Old Testament, we see appearances of the Angel of the Lord with Divine attributes equal to Yahweh (Genesis 16; 22; Exodus 3:2; Numbers 20:16; Judges 2:1-4; 13:20). 

2. In other places, we will see "two Yahwehs", one invisible in Heaven and the other appearing in temporary human form to various people (Genesis 18; 19:23; Judges 2). The "visible Yahweh" is portrayed as having the same Divine authority and status as the "invisible Yahweh". Theologian Michael Heiser refers to this Old Testament phenomena as "the two powers of heaven" doctrine, functioning as a precursor to the New Testament's teaching on the unity and equality of the Father and the Son (John 17:1-5; 1 Corinthians 8:6).

3. We also see the Person of the Son appear in disguise as a rock from whence water flows (Numbers 11:4,34; Psalm 106:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6); the burning bush which spoke to Moses (Exodus 3:14); a man that wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32; Hosea 12:4); the Captain of the Lord of hosts that spoke to Joshua (Joshua 5) and other places.  

The Relevance Of Divine Simplicity to The Various Appearance of God the Son in the Old Testament

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At this point, it is important to ask about what relationship the doctrine of Divine simplicity has to what we see in the Biblical text. The DDS asserts that the Divine nature is "without parts" and thus, immaterial in nature. Whenever the Bible asserts that "God is" something or uses a noun to affirm "what God is" or "how God is" in His essence and existence, we have the smoking gun of the doctrine of Divine simplicity. For example, Psalm 99:5 ends with the short phrase: "Holy is He". Such expressions are what theologians refer to as "predicating of attributes to God", meaning that God is the truest and fullest expression of that attribute. In other words, Yahweh does not merely have an attribute called "holy", rather, He is Holy and Holy is He. God is, by His essence and existence, holiness par excellence. To expounds further on this attribute of holiness, Isaiah 6:3 records the Seraphim crying out the three-fold repetition of "Holy, Holy, Holy". God is , in His existence and essence, this very attribute, and conversely, this very attribute is God. The other attributes of God we find in scripture (i.e. omniscience, mercy, love, goodness., etc.) are described in the same fashion as what we saw with God'a holiness. The doctrine of Divine simplicity teaches us that God is all His attributes, with no attribute being more center stage than another. What this means then is: God as Holy is truly Holy with respect to other attributes with which we understand Him in similar terms (i.e. God is holy loving and lovingly holy; God is holy merciful and lovingly merciful; God is holy omniscient and omnisciently-holy and so forth). 

What makes this intriguing, in terms of the Person of the Son, is that Jesus Himself asserts in John 12:41 that what Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6:3 was no less than He Himself! By affirming the deity of the Son, the terminology used by the Old Testament in describing such Old Testament appearances suggest the applicability of Divine Simplicity as expressing what we mean when we say "Jesus is truly God". 

How the Bible Talks About God and Its Relevance to Understanding Christ's Deity and Divine Simplicity

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So what about all the various Old Testament appearances in terms of an "embodied Yahweh" and other sorts of appearances that clearly involve Yahweh manifesting Himself in created or creaturely ways? Do these appearances in any way conflict the doctrine of Divine Simplicity? More specifically, does the Son's appearances in various forms and ways in the Old Testament do away with the notion of Him bearing a Divinely Simple nature?

Theologians have understood the Bible's way of speaking of God occurs on a two-level way of speaking. Passages that speak of God as "not changing" or "changing His mind" (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6) and which describe the Son (Hebrews 1:8-13; Hebrews 13:6) use language that speaks of God as He is in His existence and essence (i.e. "being language" or "ontological language"). Such "ontological language" is God telling us what He is like and how He is like as the Divinely Simple Being that is identified as Father, Son and Spirit. 

A second type of description used by the Bible for God utilizes analogies and metaphorical descriptions, such as God having "eyes" (2 Chronicles 16:9); "wings" (Malachi 4) ; some sort of embodiment (Daniel 10:6) and even "changing His mind" (Genesis 6:1-6). This second way of talking about God is the way in which God communicates Himself for our understanding. God's use of this second manner of revealing Himself is called "analogical language".  An "analogical description" refers to how God reveals an attribute of Himself in a comparative way to something in the created order. Thus for instance, whenever we see God described as "having eyes", this expression points us back to the "being language" or "ontological language" of God as everywhere present or omnipresence. 

To handle all the Biblical data correctly, it is important to interpret the analogical language scripture uses to describe God according to the ontological or "being" texts that reveal God as He really is. If the student of scripture fails to consider these observations, heresies such as Mormonism, which teach that God is some sort of Divine humanoid being with physical parts, will result. 

I know that today's post has tossed a lot of new terms at some readers that can quickly get us all deep into the weeds. So, to put what I just wrote in another way, a wonderful, proven illustration may help. Older Theologians use the illustration of a parent lisping to an infant in so-called "baby-talk". Why do parents do this? So that the baby is not hindered in interacting with the parent. 

As to what occurs in the relationship between the Son and the created order, the experience of change is with respect to how people experienced Him in the Old Testament. The Person of the Son, like the parent in the above illustration, "stoops down" to the level of His people by various ways, whether they be covenants, through objects or in taking on a temporary embodied form (see Hebrews 1:1-2). As author Dr. Sinclair Ferguson once remarked in a sermon, 

"Christ's Old Testament appearances functioned as a dress rehearsal for His permanent taking on of a human nature in the incarnation."

As noted already, God, by the Person of the Son, appears as a burning bush, somehow as a rock issuing forth water or as the visible Yahweh for our sake. Even though we know "that" the water from the rock and the burning bush are "Christophanies" or "Theophanies" or appearances of Christ; we still don't comprehend "how" Christ is genuinely revealed to His people in those instances. All we can say is that the pre-incarnate Christ "bent down" in such appearances to communicate to His people while all the while not ceasing to remain Divinely simple as a Divine member of the Godhead.

The Person of the Son, as we have discussed above, is free to interact with our world. Any changes and interaction with such a Divine Person like the Son (also called "the Word" in John 1:1-3,14) are how we experience Him on our side of things. It is not God's nature that undergoes such changes. Instead, we are the ones that experience change in such interactions. In the next post, we will discover how these features of the Old Testament's portrayal of God sets the stage for how we understand the Son's decisive revelation of God in His incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth. 

More next time....  

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